How an Average American Saves America, Part 1
Week 1: Wednesday
For the past four years, this factory has not been profitable. We have justified keeping it open as there were business synergies with other business units within our corporation. But these synergies are being lost. And with international tariff wars, our export markets are very uncertain.
We have looked at modernization. We have looked at new product lines. Nothing seemed to be of any financial sense. The factory is now unsustainable in any business sense. As of today, the factory is closed.
Your last paycheck has been prepared and can be picked up at the front gate. A severance package for all workers is being determined. We expect that payment to be out within a month.
We appreciate the hard work and commitment of all employees, especially those who have been with Zvolen Instruments Ltd. for a long time. It is troubling to us to see so many dedicated employees and their families go into an uncertain financial situation. But there is no recourse but to let this factory go.
Please take all personal items out of your locker or desks. Depart the factory within the hour.
We were all dumbfounded as we read the hand-delivered letter on the shop floor. Bill Evans, our manager, seemed just as confused as we were as he handed out the letters. He had had no idea either.
There were no rumors. No hints. Every day, we put together lots of new temperature gauges and sent them out the door. They must be selling somewhere! There was never any sign the company wasn’t making money.
I took my second change of clothes and shoes out of my locker. There was also a clean pair of company overalls. I should leave them. “No,” I thought, “I’ve been here 14 years. They owe me at least that. And I doubt they will create a scene at the gate.” The letter was clear that they wanted us out.
The line at the gate was about 15 workers long. I was behind Lefty Jones.
Lefty said, “Did you know about this, Lenard?”
“I don’t think anyone knew.” I responded. “Yesterday, Bill was in a great mood. If he had known, he would have sent out some signal, right?”
“I dunno,” Lefty said. “I’m not in good financial shape. It’ll be hard to find a job that pays as well as this one in this town.”
“Me, too,” I replied. We silently and slowly worked our way to the desk at the factory gate.
At the gate, a security guard I had never seen before took a quick look at my bundle and waved me through. I went to a desk where there sat a well-dressed lady who I had never seen before.
“Name?” she asked robotically.
“Lenard Pash,” I replied.
“31 Gull Lake Road, Riverbend.”
She fingered through some envelopes and handed me one.
“Here’s your pay stub. We paid you for a full day today, plus your vacation pay. The money should be in your account by Monday.”
“Thank you,” I said.
And that was that. Fourteen years and I said, “thank you.”
Jackie wasn’t home when I got there. I really wanted someone to talk to. Then the door opened and in barged Rich Riddell, my neighbor.
Rich had also worked at the factory, but for eight years longer than I had. He had just got home, and it too was empty. He had a six-pack of beer in his hand.
“Yesterday we were partners in work. Today we are partners in unemployment,” he said as he handed me a cold one.
I opened it and said, “Cheers.” We clinked beer cans.
“Damn!” he blurted. “I just wanted to work another seven or eight years. My mortgage would be finished. Then I could live off my 401 and government pension. I had it all figured out. I don’t want to find another job at this stage in my life.”
“Me too,” I responded. “I was looking forward to the rest of my life in Riverbend in this small house of ours. I just couldn’t imagine a better life.
“Why did they do this?” I asked. “You’ve been around a little longer. You’re a little closer to management. You must know something.”
“You got the same layoff letter I did,” Rich sighed. “I know nothing more. Businesspeople just don’t give a damn about the working people.”
We drowned our sorrows for a couple of hours with beer. Jackie came home.
“Why are you guys home so early?” she quizzed, giving an evil glance to the half dozen empty beer cans on the dining room table.
“Honey, the factory shut its doors today. Everyone got laid off.”
“What? You never told me that might happen.”
Rich said, “No one knew. From our layoff letter, it seemed there was a plan created a while back, and they kept everyone in the dark.”
He pulled his letter from his pocket, unfolded it and tossed it on the table. Jackie did not pick it up. She just looked at me sadly.
“There is a severance package coming soon. So we’ll be OK for a while.” I tried to be reassuring. But we both knew Jackie’s job could not keep our household finances together.
“Where are the kids?” I asked.
“Oh, they went to your parents’ place after school. I’ll pick them up after supper. I don’t think you should be driving,” said Jackie. “There’s some frozen cooked ground beef in the freezer. Len, can you start heating it up for some pasta and meat sauce. Rich, tell Emily to come over for supper.”
Supper was a bit sad, but we needed each other’s company. I had an urge to poke Rich with a little Republican barb about their claim to improve the working man’s economy. But Rich and Jackie had reached an amiable understanding that when the two of them are in the same room, they don’t discuss politics.
Jackie left and returned with the girls. Each gave me a little hug and offered their condolences about me losing my job. Being 10 and 12 years old, Sheila and Debbie really didn’t understand what the job loss would mean to the family. They went to their rooms. Rich and Emily left about 9:00. I tried to watch TV but focusing was hard.
Three years ago, I was promoted to welder in the factory. My job was to braze-weld filaments to casings for our analog temperature gauges. It took a little while to acquire this skill. But I was good, and I was fast. While this position got me a $2.75 an hour raise from the basic floor worker, it was only one kind of welding — done over and over again. I couldn’t see how this welding skill was going to help me land my next job. I didn’t sleep that well. Jackie snuggled over to my side of the bed, and that felt good.
Week 1: Thursday
With no job, I could focus on getting the kids to school. Then I walked to the town’s fire station. I told the fire chief, Kevin Verikitis, that I just lost my job and would be available for more shifts in the short term.
“I heard,” said Chief Verikitis, “Lefty Jones came by yesterday afternoon to ask the same thing. I think there’s another two former Zvolen guys who’ll probably come in as well. I’ll work you guys in as best I can. For sure, we shouldn’t have too many short-handed crews.”
The town paid all its volunteer firefighters $12.00 an hour when they were on training or on location. The wage doesn’t reflect the skills we have acquired, but it is nice to be appreciated with that stipend. Being on call more often should help the family finances.
I went to the coffee shop and found Bill Evans. He invited me into his booth. He was still shocked by the loss of his management position.
“What’s going to happen to the factory?” I asked. “Maybe some former employees can get some work with the dismantling and clean up.”
“I had a little talk with corporate people yesterday afternoon,” he said. “I think they are just bringing in a contract crew to take what’s valuable and move it somewhere else.”
“Will they be building our gauges in Asia?”
“Not sure. All I know is there are quite a few companies around the world building gauges like ours. It is a competitive business.”
That afternoon, I spent time in my back yard, getting our ATVs (all-terrain vehicles) ready for a family campout. Jackie later agreed with me: “Our family needs a little time at Camp Battenor. I’ll try to get Monday off as well and let the school know the girls will be taking the day off.”
Week 1: Saturday
Ten years ago, the ATV association I belong to negotiated a little deal with the federal government. We built a campsite in the Battenor Wilderness Area. This 55-square-mile parcel is federally owned and has not had much development. We called our campsite ‘Camp Battenor.’ We unload our ATVs in a parking lot on a gravel road. From the parking lot, we take our ATVs about three miles to the campsite and set up tents. From Camp Battenor, we explore the forests and hills with our ATVs. There are some old logging trails, and we have built a few trails of our own. It is a great place to get away from the urban life for a few days. Often, we just stay at Camp Battenor, just taking in nature and the slow pace of life.
Part of our obligations are to keep Camp Battenor clean. This includes setting up an outhouse. The association built its own ‘honey wagon,’ a tank trailer that could be pulled by an ATV. The honey wagon hauls the human waste from the outhouse back to the parking lot. Then the wagon is mounted onto a flatbed trailer, which is pulled by a pickup truck to Riverbend’s sewage sanitation plant. The association pays members $200 for making a honey wagon trip. It is not a pleasant ATV task, but maybe it was time for me to take on more than my fair share.
I have been treasurer of the association for the past four years. We meet every two months to make decisions. We often invite people from the government. We have built up an excellent rapport with game wardens, biologists, bureaucrats, and politicians. We are out there and have a lot of information we can give them. For example, we keep track of bear sightings. The government likes us being out there, keeping an eye on things.
There were two other groups camping at Camp Battenor. One was my friend Ed Broncher and his family. My family pitched our tent next to Ed’s family, and we shared meals for the weekend.
Ed and I are good friends. We graduated from Riverbend High School in the same year. Ed’s Uncle Pete was the owner of an oilfield service rig company in Enid, Oklahoma. He always needed young men who liked to work hard and make good money. Uncle Pete knew Ed would be a good fit for his company, and he hired me based on Ed’s recommendation. With a job in hand, we headed out to Enid after graduation. Uncle Pete had already found us a partially furnished two-bedroom apartment. Two days later, we were on the service rigs, busting our backs and learning how to repair oil wells.
Ed and I made a lot of money in the next two years. We had some fun with that money (Las Vegas and Cancun), but we saved a lot too. When it was time to return to Riverbend, Ed went to college to learn about insurance. I found Jackie, and we got married. We used my oilfield money as a big down payment on our house.
Ed said: “I heard the bad news, Len. I know how much you liked your job.”
“Yeah, it was a bit of a shock. We had no idea this shutdown was in the cards.”
“Well, we’re not sure. For this weekend, we’re just going to enjoy being out here”.
Jackie and I have got our home and car insurance with Ed’s insurance brokerage firm. He’s done well in Riverbend. He knows how to deal with insurance companies. Once we had a sewer backup that flooded our basement. The company tried to claim that sewer backup wasn’t under our policy. But Ed knew what to do.
We went on a few treks with our two ATV’s and did a little fishing. I did some maintenance at the campsite. Cutting the grass helps keep the mosquitos away. We have a shed which is used to house various tools and a little office.
Camp Battenor is open only to members of our association. And members have to pay a $1000 annual fee, plus $5 a day for each ATV and tent. Guests of members pay $50 a day. We don’t allow people to just show up without a member. Throughout the summer, there are enough members around to gather the payments and enforce the few rules we have set up.
Camp Battenor is the only location in the Battenor Wilderness Area that allows overnight camping. However, there are a lot of ATV people who come to the area for the day.
Unfortunately, there are a few too many ATV people who don’t behave responsibly. Chasing wildlife, poaching, drunken parties, and garbage on the ground are still too common. We won’t take this culture into our Camp Battenor group. Nonetheless, the riff-raff have tried to camp in or close to our site. We have called in the police and game wardens a few times. It’s better to keep the rowdies somewhat off balance than to let them get too comfortable with their irresponsible camping.
There are environmentalists who want to shut down most human activity in the wilderness area. The irresponsible campers are their main fighting points, but Camp Battenor is lumped in with the rowdies. But our strategy to work with the authorities has paid off. If we find illegal camping, we let the authorities know and let them deal with it. We have been called into court as witnesses for the prosecution a few times. And often we find ourselves picking up riff-raff garbage. I don’t see environmentalists taking on that task.
Week 2: Tuesday
Back at home, I was getting our ATVs and ATV trailers cleaned up. Rich invited himself in through my back yard gate.
“I hate Republicans!” he proclaimed.
“But they are your party. Remember how you tried to take me to that Republican rally last year?”
“Well, hell with them! We have a Republican president and a Republican governor both promising to save our American jobs. I lost my American job. I spent all those years in the Party for nothing.”
“Now that is a change.”
“They are nothing but rich guys interested in making money. They don’t give a shit about the American worker.
A little pause.
“You know Len, I’m 55 years old. I’ve been with Zvolen Instruments for the last 22 years. I just wanted another seven or eight years more. The truth is that I really haven’t learned many new job skills with Zvolen. And Zvolen is not the only factory in Riverbend to shut down. Where am I going to find work in this town? What about my medical coverage?”
I got out a flat of cold beer. We played gin rummy until Jackie came home.
Week 2: Friday
In the past few days, I got a couple calls with the fire department. A three-vehicle accident on the interstate required our extraction equipment. One person died; two got sent to hospital. Then a mobile home caught fire; it seems lint buildup in the dryer line was to blame. Then we got the trucks ready for the next call.
Chief Verikitis said next weekend there would be training to operate the pumper truck for those volunteers interested in getting their certification for this equipment. It’s been a few years since I have taken this training. It’s time for me to get my firefighting credentials updated. The training should bring in another four or five hours of firefighter’s pay.
Week 3: Monday
Rich blasted through my front door. “Ever heard of Tiered Democratic Governance?”
“Nope, it sounds too fancy for a guy like me. And you know I don’t like politics.”
“Well, this Dave fellow from Canada has an interesting idea.”
“Yeah, he says instead of waiting for a political messiah to tell us how he or she is going to fix things for us, we common people need to get to work. Doesn’t that make sense?”
“No political parties. Can you imagine that?”
“And we neighbors elect one of us to be the representative.”
“And we base our vote on good character and capacity. We just find someone in our neighborhood that has those two qualities. Then we vote for him or her.”
“That sounds rather simple. Maybe too simple.”
“It is. Instead of voting for the monkey with the party affiliation beside his name, we vote for good character. We know our neighbors reasonably well. We can vote for that person.”
“Still too simple.”
“Well I need to read more of Dave’s book. But he says he can’t build a new system for us. We have to do it ourselves.”
“He might be right.”
“Tomorrow night at 7:00. Meeting at my place. I’m going to talk to a few more people around here. Then read more of this book.”
Week 3: Tuesday
Jackie decided to come with me. Emily was there as well. Rich introduced us to Holger Peters and a couple by the name of Joe and Jenny Clark. They came because Rich knocked on their door yesterday evening. We exchanged a little small talk. It was kind of hard to say out loud that I used to work with Rich, and we just got laid off. Even though I had a simple job, it was part of who I am — or was.
Rich started the meeting: “Thank you for coming. I somehow think we seven are making history tonight. This is the first TDG meeting in Riverbend. We are going to start changing America.”
Rich was showing enthusiasm, but I wasn’t feeling it.
He continued, “In case you didn’t know, I have been a life-long Republican. I always believed that the Republicans were usually steering the country along the best path. So I put a lot of time into the Party — and that is how I have served America.”
He got a little gloomy: “But I have lost my faith. Americans should not be losing jobs they are good at. I lost my job my last week. The Republicans failed me.”
He continued, “Three days ago, I stumbled on a website about a new system of governance. It is quite amazing. I don’t know where to start.”
Jenny said, “You mentioned something about no political parties yesterday at our door.”
Rich gathered his thoughts: “Yeah that’s right. Dave, the guy who invented this TDG, listed 12 limitations of using political parties to govern us. I can see that all of Dave’s limitations are just common sense true.
He continued, “You know how those Democrats are so pissed at the electoral college? They claim that the election was stolen from them in 2000 and 2016 because Al Gore and Hillary Clinton got more votes than Bush and Trump. Remember?
“Well, Dave says making changes like this won’t change a damn thing. The 12 limitations will still be there whether the president is elected by popular vote or by the electoral college. Dave is so right on! The rich bastards will still be running the show.”
I steered the conversation: “Rich you said something about electing our neighbors. Can you explain more?”
Rich added, “Yeah, right. From what I can understand, we put about 200 people together in a political neighborhood. Then we vote for someone in our neighborhood. We base our vote on good character and capacity for governance. If someone’s been of good service to our neighborhood, we can vote for that person.”
I was skeptical: “But what if that person does not want the job?”
Rich quickly replied: “If that person does little to keep the job, next year we just vote for someone else. The elections are annual, so a bad representative isn’t gonna be around that long.”
Emily was puzzled: “But wouldn’t annual election be expensive?”
Rich was confident: “Not at the neighborhood level. For example, I would volunteer my house — if my wife agrees — as a place for neighbors to cast ballots. Neighbors could come to my house on election day and write in the name of their preferred neighbor. Later we count them — with enough people around to prove there was no cheating. Then we give the winner the job of being our neighborhood representative.”
I was still skeptical: “OK, but we don’t really know each other that well. This is the first time I’ve ever sat down with Holger, Joe, and Jenny. I know nothing about these people to vote for them.”
Rich said, “True, but you know me. You know Jackie. You know Emily. You can vote for one of us. Pick the best of us and put that name down. You can even vote for yourself!”
Joe seemed to be a practical man: “Rich, having a representative for every 200 or so people is going to require another government salary.”
Rich had the answer: “According to Dave, the neighborhood representative will be mostly a volunteer job, maybe taking 10 hours a month. There won’t be a six-figure salary and a big office with paid staffers that go with this position.”
Joe had another good question: “Will the neighborhood representative be making the laws for the neighborhood?”
Rich was not so confident: “Well no, the neighborhood representatives do not make the laws for their neighborhoods. There seems to be an elected body at a higher level who takes care of laws. The neighborhood representatives elect someone for that higher level.”
More questions were asked, but it seemed evident that Rich was not completely sure how this TDG works. He directed us to the TDG website to read the book for ourselves. He offered his home for another meeting next week.